Published April 11, 2022 / All Stories
A passion for the brain
At first, he may not have been the eager student in the first row in medical school, but Maurizio Facheris, M.D., had known he was interested in science, genetics and biology since high school. The Italian-born doctor believed that medicine allowed him to combine those interests with helping others. Initially, he thought his calling was as a cardio surgeon, but learning about the heart didn’t evoke the passion he felt when he sat in a different lecture. That lecture was about the brain.
“For neurology, it was such a fascinating topic. Everything we feel and what we process comes from the brain,” Facheris says. “It’s not really your gut. It’s the brain and a bunch of neurotransmitters that create a thought, a feeling, or a movement. I just fell in love.”
For the first time, Facheris says, he was in the front row. Later, during his medical residency in Milan, Italy, he took interest in neurodegenerative disease research, Parkinson’s specifically. Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder where neurons in the brain lose their ability to produce dopamine, which leads to muscular rigidity, tremors and slowness of movement.
More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation, with new diagnoses expected to rise along with an aging population. The need for continued research and effective treatments served as motivation for Facheris, who watched both his uncle and his close friend, only 36 years old, struggle with the disease.
“I thought if we could stop those neurons from dying and make them regrow, we could restore their function and, for example, help patients regain control of their movement,” Facheris says. “That’s compared to Alzheimer’s, where the main work is focused on preventing further degeneration. Once the neurons that created a memory are gone, that memory is gone forever, as well as the personality of that patient, even if we could put in new neurons.”